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I’ve been writing and my drawing practice has inevitably been left to slide. And I’ve felt it. Stripped bare of all its usual jostle, noise and I must say amiability, the coffee shop where I practice has not been as forthcoming with either subject matter or energy. Staff are off, either with Covid or they are self-isolating, the opening hours are reduced, making the queues, when they do come, heavier and almost continual, and there is the usual post-Christmas ennui. I’ve tried to battle through it. (I used to cry in restaurants, now I cry in cafes.) Tea helps, nevertheless drawing well is such a fickle thing, or at least that is how it feels. And yet, as I know full well, all one can or has to do is keep going. After all, I’ve been learning to draw for over 40 years now. Each day (I’ve drawn over the last three or was it four?) I set myself new things to concentrate on – whether it is just using pen and wash, or focussing on trying to capture details, like people’s shoes or woolly hats, or the way they hold their bodies in the queue (almost everyone reads their phone when they have to wait – we can’t just do nothing, it seems), or as I did yesterday trying to use a few lines or sweeps of a brush to create solidity and form.

I want to push what I am capable of – to attempt to get more of a sense of place in my work, and of interactions in the queue. But there is always this imperative to draw fast, to capture the moment before it is lost, that extraneous details become tricky to include. I need to find shorthand ways of communicating what I see.

To use faster movements and to almost skip ahead of my mind which tethers my hands. I like the wash but it can get murky, and the use of colour though attractive mustn’t be used to obfuscate badly-observed drawing. I work hard, and it is very intensive. I get home and I am sucked dry of all energy. It is an authentic way of working for me – albeit hit and miss. And a day not doing it (when the need to do paid work is too compelling and indeed necessary) is a less shining one.


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It was all change when we returned to our coffee shop after Christmas. Stripped of tables and with a one way system marked out on the floor, I panicked. How or whom am I going to draw? Don’t indulge it, hissed my partner, as I tried to get a grip. After all that’s the way it is when you rely on life, fate, whatever you want to call it, to deliver something energetic and ultimately beyond your control to draw. I kept it simple, using just my pens and working with line and wash. It was like dragging myself through mud.

Mask wearing is now mandatory in Wales and because of the lack of seating the coffee buyers came and went with unusual speed. I decided to attempt to concentrate on gesture and gait but it was a come-down from all the energy and vigour I’d generated pre-Christmas.

And it’s a dead time this no-mans land between Christmas and New Year, the town is a ghost one. And the rain and wind don’t help. Even the usual clientele whom I draw regularly were either too far away or they didn’t bother coming. Keep going, my partner said, bringing me another tea. It’s got to be got through.

People did eventually start to arrive, one man in a pair of shorts (T**t, muttered my partner).

When facial features were lost to me due to masks I attempted to capture the extraneous stuff – boots, scarfs, haircuts – anything to just keep drawing. Just keep drawing. That’s all you have to do.


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The coffee shop was initially quiet on the two mornings that we managed to visit it. We thought it might be the case after the Welsh government have imposed new restrictions due to come into force after Boxing Day. For a long time it was just us, the skeleton staff, who in the company’s wisdom believe are all that is needed first thing, and the two middle aged men, who, like us always sit in the same place. I love to draw the thin man. His face is almost impossibly cavernous. And though I draw the other man over and over, he being usually the only one to study when it first open, his face is less dramatic, less stark. (We saw him on our walk in and he was rather off hand with his greeting. Fair enough, I said. However, I think he must’ve thought it over and was almost warm when we saw him the coffee shop later.) I love to him laugh though, when his friend, clearly the lugubrious one, makes his shoulders shudder with mirth.

A hour later the queue started to build. There were the swimmers, all muffled up. (How can they do it? We see them on our walk in, either in the water or just out, towelling their pink bodies down and no doubt feeling exhilarated. Though some do cheat with wet suits. There’s a real camaraderie amongst them, clearly.)

Then there was ‘Dylan Thomas’ and a line of other faces and bodies, some familiar and some new.

The effete man and his wife came and I tried to capture some of their intimacy, though from a discrete distance.

When the queue builds up, I think at one point it was out of the door, I have to draw so quickly to get an essence down before they move on. There is a frenetic-ness to it that I rather like. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Let me see, says my partner, oh, you got him. He is my witness, for the evidence, if that is the right word, is soon gone. I feel authentic drawing like this, there is a vitality to the process that stimulates and fires me. Though what the drawings are or are to become once the experience of watching is done, who knows?

I love the different gaits, the swathes of scarves and multi-coloured masks. There is a sense of belonging in being there drawing. I am making them my own, finding an allegiance with them in my observing. I like the new but I also like the regular-ness of it. Like the two little boys who come in with their mother and grandmother, rushing round to the little shelf by the loos to get the paper and wax crayons so that they can draw.

This week they had Santa hats on. Cute. Then there was the woman who sat by us wearing a huge woolly hat, who either read her phone or hugged her coffee cup in her hands. She had to take her glasses off to read and leant close to the screen her face almost touching it. I loved her concentration. She was enclosed in her own world, folded up.

Then there was the young man with the very pronounced jaw. He was as lean as a dancer. Was he French? The dunking of his croissant in his coffee may have been the tell-tale sign. I struggled to draw him initially, as he kept looking at me.

But then he finished eating and dedicated all his attention to his phone. (No one seems to read books, or even papers anymore.) Two women took the table that the two middle-aged men had vacated. They were clearly mother and daughter and both had a large amount of foundation on their faces and very black-dyed hair. There was a sickly-ness to them both. And they rarely talked.

When they left a man in a pink jumper and his friend occupied the table. He did most of the talking, mostly bemoaning the fact that Christmas was too commercial. What about chapel? he asked.


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In an attempt to side-step a mind that is bent on destabilising my confidence, I often speed draw.  Tea helps, as does the arrival of a motley of coffee shop frequenters in marvellous winter garb (and/or with fantastic haircuts to boot) – such as this customer last Sunday. Is it a girl or a boy? my partner asked. Does it matter? I hissed, intent on my drawing.

I’ve got a new edition to my arsenal of drawing implements (which I lay out on the table in front of me), one that the superlative reportage artist Veronica Lawlor mentions in her book, One Drawing a Day – a portable water pen.  I used it, or I should say them (for they come in various brush thicknesses) this weekend, warming to the fluidity it gave to my drawings. I also tried a new fountain pen that I’d purchased, which seemed to work much better under the pressure of attempting to capture people before they disappeared, rather than the static drawing I’d used it for in my studio.

The coffee shop was busy, buzzing almost, with lots of people sitting around in groups. I tried to step up to meet the challenge of the clamour, the amiability and chatter by describing what I saw and heard, such as the group of young men sitting at a low table near us talking about clothes, before lowering their voices and moving in closer to discuss, no doubt more intimate issues.

All the while, the man with the beard and luscious brogue kept, surreptitiously, taking a drag from his vape pipe. A group of students occupied the big table with more and more turning up to join them. They looked earnest and keen.

I became a little fixated in trying to capture one of them in a huge, patterned jumper.

Prior to their arrival the effete man and his wife had sat on the end of the same table. She seemed distracted and sad again and he sipped his green tea saying little.

I endeavoured to show something of their interaction but oftentimes other details are lost – such as her face, I can’t get it. She’s far more elegant than I portray her.

Sunday also brought groups and couples.

Such as the two women who sat on the table next to ours (they were joined by their partners later). They both had remarkably yellow faces, one it appeared from exposure to sun or sunbeds, and the other possibly because she wasn’t well, her eyes being very puffed up. Or there was the man with mental health issues, who the day before had launched into a long conversation with us. We were both delighted by his transformation. He came in both days with one of his friends, a very, very tall girl.

His Christmas jumper this week was a parade of penguins. They didn’t talk much but when they did she made him laugh. There was also the couple who came on the Sunday taking the table vacated by the yellow-faced women. I’d drawn him in the queue, fascinated by the rubbery lean of his gait.

She had red-hair that had been sternly pulled back off her face. When he eventually joined her with coffee and two brownies, they ate in silence. He ate fast (I watched his jaw moving) as did she, and their conversation was virtually non-existent.

The regulars were in, of course. The man who read his phone and the small, rotund chap who I think I shall call Dylan Thomas who returns again and again for his ‘robbo-cinos’.

I watch him a lot trying to get his stance and features correct. He makes an effort chatting with the staff and they clearly like him but there is a hint of melancholy about him when he stands unattended to in the queue. The rest were strangers who excited me by their unusual bodily leanings (so often people cross their arms when queueing) or attire or behaviour.

The world was there and I loved it.


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The wind still raging post storm Arwen, the coffee shop was as cold and inhospitable as the week before. But, draw I must, and I did. With the door either propped open or left ajar for it to bash and bang with the wind people don’t tend to stay. I drew the few who came in just after eight, trying to capture their bodies as they closed in on themselves against the cold. I had to draw quickly for they didn’t stand still for long. For the first hour it was just us, the man who reads his phone, and who only livens up when the thin man joins him which he did and they giggled together over a video on his phone, and a few ‘take-aways’ like the ex-chef sporting a hat with ear flaps.

The lanky, rubbery-bodied effete man came in just after 9 am

but sans wife. I draw him time and time again. His face and stance fascinate me for they are never still, even when he is alone. He drank his green tea on the end of the long table and then left. The small, shrew-featured woman who once remonstrated with my partner for taking a chair from the table she’d intended to occupy (they consequently made it up) took the place of the two giggling elderly men. She too wasn’t still.

If she wasn’t mopping her face and neck with a flannel (perhaps she is menopausal) she was bobbing up and down in her seat trying to see out the window. She was clearly waiting for her friend, the one with purple hair, who came almost half and hour later. I was happy for her, for them.

Two of the wild swimmers came in and the barista asked if they’d been in the water. ‘Have you seen the weather outside?’ replied the big man in the ear-flapped hat and lumberjacks’ jacket. They were followed by the impossibly skinny boy who used to work in the coffee shop but left to work in the vegan shop two streets away. He also fascinates me but, clearly running on a surfeit of energy he jerks and jumps about like a flea.

I had to respond fast and reached for a fat pencil and coloured crayons. Ex and current workers often drink there on their days off or come in early and drink and chat or being students work on their laptops, like the man with the curly pony tail, who is, as yet, nameless to us.

Their are several gatherings of men who come in regularly at the weekend. My partner, having been born here, knows many of them and raises a hand in greeting or talks gossip or golf.

The coffee shop opens an hour later on Sunday and both managers are in putting up the Christmas tree. One wears a Christmas jumper as does the quiet man with Learning Difficulties. (I try to draw him but the results are unpleasing, he kept looking at me and I squirmed making the drawing self-conscious and wooden.) The phone-reading man was in as usual but without his friend. I watched and listened to the staff as I drew. They get on well, and the laughter is warming.

The small man with droopy-eyes was in as usual, popping back to the counter for more coffee again and again. And the ex-tree surgeon too, a hugely tall man who always wears a red baseball hat. (A girl came in wanting a hot chocolate but had forgotten her purse. My partner jumped up to buy it for her but couldn’t work the app so the tree surgeon bought it for her instead.)

The skinny ex-barista returned the next day wearing a tight black woolly hat, behind him in the queue was an uncoated girl, her bottom tightly encased in a elasticated skirt. The strangers came later and sat at the table nearest to us. There was an energy to their group that was distinctly metropolitan. Evidently waiting to be joined by others, the man sat down only to spring up again and again to look out of the window towards the sea. He wore what looked like a green flower-pot hat and his voice was Tom Waits-esque and gravelly. His wife ( I presume) wore a biker’s leather jacket (‘It looks ridiculous,’ hissed my partner.)

The woman lit up when their expect-ees arrived. Two younger men, louche and confident, they sprawled in chairs, talked, ordered nothing. ‘Do they do breakfast here?’ one asked, and then not waiting for an answer proceeded to read his phone. His features were distinct, bulbous even and he wore a punk-like black mohair jumper.

I find it hard to drag myself away when it’s time to go and smuggle in two final drawings of another elderly man sitting with his friend.

As I left I told the pink-haired barista that her laugh was lovely. And it is.


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